Congressional candidates discuss economic development, COVID-19

Democrat Mia Mason is challenging incumbent Republican Congressman Andy Harris in Maryland’s 1st District race.

CHESTERTOWN — Republican Andy Harris is facing a challenge for his seat representing Maryland’s 1st District in the U.S. House of Representatives from Democrat Mia Mason.

Harris and Mason sat down for individual interviews during which they were asked the same set of questions. Mason’s interview was conducted Sept. 16. Harris sat for his interview Sept. 25.

Over the next three weeks, we will publish their responses to those questions in a series of articles. Future topics include race, balancing agriculture and environmental stewardship and health care.

The 1st District comprises the entirety of Maryland’s Eastern Shore and parts of Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties.

Early voting in Maryland runs Oct. 26 through Nov. 2. Election day is Nov. 3.

Question: While several counties/communities in the district are doing well on the economic development front, others are struggling with the loss of industries/populations. What would you do to help improve economic development and growth to those areas in the district most in need, and what additional measures can be done at the federal level to enhance economic development in the district?

Harris: There are some counties on the Eastern Shore that certainly are lagging behind other counties in the district. What we have to do first of all, just on the national level, we have to make sure we get the economy going again. The economy was going very well before the COVID pandemic. We have got to get it back on track. Part of the post COVID environment is going to be actually attracting some of the manufacturing back to the U.S. I think there are counties on the Eastern Shore that are ideal sites for attracting some of that business back to the U.S.

The other thing we need to do, we need to make sure we don’t hurt the other industries on the Shore, whether it is the tourism industry, the watermen industry or the agriculture industry. We have to make sure the federal government doesn’t get in the way of allowing those industries to prosper in the recovery.

We have had record increases in median family income in the U.S. and in the 1st Congressional District before the COVID pandemic and we need to return to that kind of economy

Mason: Currently there is a plan for 2021 for neighborhood revitalization. Our district has about six different regions that comprise that. The outline of this program is to help our communities with manufacturing, help them with jobs, help them with the healthcare issues that they have. What I can do on the federal level is to be able to provide federal block grants so that this program is fully funded, because the state of Maryland is currently shortchanged due to the current budget crisis with the pandemic. I think this would be something that we can work together with other House leaders and then work with our Senators to pass because this is something that is happening across the entire nation.

Question: What is your position on how the COVID-19 pandemic is being handled by the State of Maryland and nationally? If placed in charge of COVID-19 related responses what would you handle differently?

Mason: The best thing that we have seen is our governor stand up against President Trump. Because he (Gov. Larry Hogan) was sued by our opponent, Rep. (Andy) Harris, he has had to revert back to a lot of things. He provided a three-phase plan that the other governors and even federal leaders did not have. So the governor did do a good job there.

As far as implementing it and getting it done faster than the federal government, that is where Gov. Hogan has failed. Because I know my opponent sides with the President, the conspiracy theories, the whole anti-masking and everything else is completely detrimental to our healthcare providers and our healthcare workers. It put them at risk. It definitely put nurses and doctors into the COVID ward and the ICU where they ended up with COVID themselves and it could have been prevented.

Instead of hunting for PPE (personal protective equipment) to sell to other states, we could have used the PPE and reduced the COVID numbers in this state drastically, if it was implemented back in January or February versus mid to late March.

Those were the things that I see for leadership that can change. I am all about making sure that we get rid of bad leaders and Andy Harris was one of those bad leaders because he went from Frederick all the way down to Salisbury to basically reopen Maryland, force our schools to reopen too soon and even wanted to try to have them open before the school year ended because he did not believe in the science or the deaths.

Currently five out of the nine counties on the Eastern Shore have double the rate of COVID cases than anywhere else in the state. So if you are going down Route 50 from Queen Anne’s County/the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to Ocean City, it is a COVID hotspot continuously along that route. We see the same issues in other states, like in the corridor of Louisiana on Route 10, these are the problems that we see where people are just moving from state to state, that they are not taking the safeguards required to wear masks properly. The places where there are no restrictions and they want to debunk the science about this pandemic has completely failed us.

So with that failed leadership, he (Harris) has worked against our healthcare workers, our teachers and our communities and desperately has degraded the technology in our communities that needed it years ago by voting against our communities.

With that we are now in phase three. I know there is a rush for a vaccine, however, we need to make sure that is a quality instead of quantity measure and that is a safest way to make sure we get a vaccine, by not rushing the process or circumventing the FDA or CDC guidelines to basically get this done before Election Day.

Harris: The most important thing to remember is this is a novel coronavirus. This has not been seen on the earth before last year. So we really had no experience whatsoever with it. We have had experiences with related coronaviruses, but not with the one that causes COVID-19 as a disease. No one knew what was the right thing to do because we have never seen this before.

At the federal level, precautions were taken. I think some of the most important precautions were stopping international travel since we knew this virus originated in China, spread to Europe and then spread to the U.S., stopping international travel was important.

Beyond that, the most important thing the federal government could do was to accelerate the development of treatments and vaccines so that we could shorten, to the greatest extent possible, the duration of this pandemic. That is exactly what we are doing with Operation Warp Speed, which is going to have, I believe, a licensed vaccine before the end of the year, which means probably by next summer we can return almost to a state of normal, which is so important to the economy of the Eastern Shore.

On the state level, the important thing was for the governor to monitor how the state was doing, and once the lockdowns were imposed, to engage how quickly we could come out of the lockdowns. I thought we waited a little too long to come out of the spring lockdown. Since the Eastern Shore economy is so dependent on the summer season, I thought we could have come out a little earlier. We did come out and I think we came out fairly safely. The bottom line is in Maryland we came out without stressing our health system really at all. Stopping elective procedures was a financial strain on our health system, but we did not fill our hospitals and we did not have patients who couldn’t get care because of healthcare system constraints for COVID-19.

What would I have done differently? Given that we didn’t know much about this last year, we were all learning at the same time, it is easy to play Monday morning quarterback, but the fact of the matter is we have passed the spike in deaths in the country. Our rate of hospitalizations has gone way down, our death rate has gone way down. All the trends are in the right direction, with the development of therapeutics and, I believe by the end of the year, licensing of a vaccine.

People have to realize how significant Operation Warp Speed was to cut through the red tape of product development and vaccine development and therapy development yet preserving the safety and efficacy requirements that the FDA has. Being in the federal government for awhile, you learn there is a lot of red tape that can come out of Washington. Some of that red tape is not necessary, some regulation is. Obviously the FDA needs to ensure that drugs are safe and efficacious, but there can be a lot of red tape that slows down drug and vaccine development that is not necessary.

The government is making the investment of producing the vaccines as they are being researched and in the regulatory approval process. This usually doesn’t occur. There is usually a one-year lag time or so, but in this case one year is tens of thousands of lives. The decision was made, and I think it was the right decision, to go ahead and produce these vaccines in parallel with testing the vaccines.

Now some of the vaccines are not going to pan out and we will have spent money producing them that is never going to be used, but that is OK, because I am convinced several of them are going to pan out and we are going to have hundreds of millions of doses by early next year.

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